Electra, My Love
How satisfying, how pleasingly apt that the boutique home video label Second Run has managed to release a major portion of Hungarian director Miklós Jancsó's work in more or less chronological order - recently culminating in the Blu-ray edition of Electra, My Love (Szerelmem, Elektra). It's given this particular reviewer the opportunity to become familiar with a veritable titan of world cinema whose output deserves every pair of eyeballs it can find in our constant age of uncertainty. There was no one with the guts and skill to marry the fiercely political with such audacious technical ambition against an often beautiful and artful canvas like Jancsó.
Second Run has brought me (and surely many others) to this point of appreciation with its loving editions of Jancsó's work, starting with The Red and the White and then beginning a chronological stroll with My Way Home leading into The Round-Up then The Confrontation and Red Psalm and now going high definition with Electra, My Love. The maturation and expanding of boundaries across these movies is marvelous to watch. Particular highlights will vary from viewer to viewer, but I'm inclined to cite The Round- Up and, actually, this most recent offering as the two which have most moved and aroused me. In just twelve long takes, Jancsó and cinematographer János Kende make Electra, My Love into a swirling ballet of pastoral splendor.
The exposition is somewhat minimal and grey but our plot (inspired by ancient Greek myth) finds the title character Electra still mourning the death of her father, King Agamemnon, exactly fifteen years after its occurrence. It's less a brooding affair than an outwardly vengeful one. Electra seeks revenge on the tyrannical King Aegisthus, a cleanly bald figure in a thick and furry vest. Others, including her sister Chrysothemis, encourage a more resigned approach from Electra but to no avail - she remains intent on destruction and vengeance. Here Jancsó, working from a play by László Gyurkó, imparts philosophical laments like "may all those murdered by tyrants be blessed" that seethe with political implications.
A messenger reports the death of Electra's brother Orestes but that proves to be, let's say, complicated. There are ample references to the firebird of revolution - the phoenix, returning defiantly to the fray. Orestes and Electra will ultimately duel in a strange and almost erotic/incestuous manner that seems like the most confusing occurrence in the film until the bright red helicopter appears. There's music - guitar folk songs and hymns of dance - that expand the story while continuing some of what Jancsó did on Red Psalm in terms of the use of song inside a narrative. The sum is a compact yet broadly sweeping affair of activists and peasants oppressed by authority which hits its target with a bang.
And it's stunningly beautiful. Perhaps more than anything else, the enduring reaction to Electra, My Love - for those completely untethered to any of the culture associated with the film - should be just how magnificent an experience it is to behold. From the wondrous and elegant camera movements to the gorgeous sunlit scenery, this is quite an appealing picture to simply absorb from a visual standpoint. There's a quick scene, maybe midway through the film, where the backsides of a naked male and a naked female are framed by a grey brick entryway as they frolic back and forth, and it's intoxicating to witness. One can get lost in the ugliness of the world and it can be such a rush to absorb the magnitude of aesthetic beauty in art - be it cinema or other forms.
I don't know where exactly Second Run's exploration of the career of Miklos Jancsó will continue going forward but I do know that this edition of Electra, My Love feels like an appropriate point of reflection for what's come previously by this director and on this label. I also know that it reminds us how effective Jancsó could be with his brief running times and devout attention to particular points of emphasis. We simply cannot overlook the importance of Second Run shining a spotlight and offering quite a bit of guidance on a Hungarian filmmaker often seen as difficult and intimidating to the modern viewer. Electra, My Love, with its peacock motif and surrounding political ire disguised inside such showings of outward vengeance and reflective beauty, is clearly one of its filmmaker's finest works. This Blu-ray edition is a gift of some magnitude.
Second Run's region-free disc of Electra, My Love is housed in a clear plastic case with a nifty booklet inside. It's a single-layered BD25 disc.
The image is presented in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio. It looks crisp and vibrant, though lacking in much grain. Minimal damage comes into play. I was particularly struck by the clarity. Detail shines amid the sun-kissed look of the picture. I would hope viewers of the disc would be overjoyed at the results here, particularly as this is clearly Second Run's boldest and riskiest venture yet into high definition. It's imperative to support such releases in order to reap the benefits of future efforts.
Audio emerges cleanly via the Hungarian 1.0 mono LPCM track. It's fairly obvious that dialogue was later dubbed but everything here sounds reasonably well and minus any instances of damage or subterfuge. Subtitles are available in English, though optional.
On the disc we get "The Evolution of the Long Take" (29:22) - an interview with cinematographer János Kende from 2014 in which he discusses several of the collaborations with Jancso.
There's also a typically valuable 16-page booklet with an essay by Peter Hames. Most every time I come across a Second Run release with a Hames essay I tend to breathe more easily, knowing that even if the film floats way above my head I'll come to gain a new appreciation of what I've seen via the included writing. We're given the typical and expected level of insight in Hames' piece here. Credits and a few stills round out the insert.